Community Discussion: Blog by stevesan | stevesan's ProfileDestructoid
stevesan's Profile - Destructoid



You hear a lot about various video game "genres," such as FPS, RTS, action, adventure, action-adventure-FPS-MMO. But we don't hear much discussion about video game "forms". Now, I'm no film major, so I may be misusing some terms here (please correct me in the comments), but here are some "forms" of film I can think of: Music video, commercial, TV show, feature film, news, sports, etc.

Currently, video games mostly cover two of those forms analogously: feature film (AAA titles), and TV show (sort of with smaller releases). Of course, we do have some forms that I can't think of any film analogy for: Pure game-games, like Tetris. But how about articulating some of the other forms that video games can take?

Why is this a useful way to think about video games? Well, ever since the beginning of time, people have debated what games should and should not be. Is story important? How should game play and story interact? And the answer to all this really is: In every way imaginable. Can you imagine if people were to debate how film and music should interact? In a feature film, music typically complements the movie. But in a music video, the film complements the music! Ahhh what freedom they have in film! Why should games be any different? In some games, story complements the gameplay (Portal). In other games, gameplay complements the story (To The Moon, LA Noire). And yet other games are somewhere in between.

So, I think it's time we start forming a vocabulary for this kind of thing. This way, we can better communicate what exactly a particular game is - what "form" is it? If you watch a music video and expect a story, that's really your problem. But if I just tell you, "This is an action game", you don't really know whether or not to expect a solid story or not. This may lead you to regret your purchase! So, how about we start talking about games like this: "To the Moon is a story-driven adventure game." Or, "Uncharted 3 is a story-complemented action-adventure game." To the Moon's sole purpose is to tell you a story with some small interactive bits here and there, so it's "story-driven." Its interaction mechanics are largely about exploration and light puzzle solving, so "adventure" describes that. Uncharted 3 is an action-adventure game - it features cover-based shooting and light platforming. It is "story-complemented" because the story isn't really the point of the game - it's just to make the overall experience more enjoyable. Just as "Requiem for a Dream" wasn't made to showcase Clint Mansell's epic piece, it still made the overall experience more intense. And of course, there's a special art to film scoring, just as there will be a special art to game-story-writing.

If someone just wanted to write a song, they wouldn't go find a movie to write it for. They'd just write the song. But, maybe a movie inspires them to write a song, and then they tailor the song to really fit the movie. And that makes for a cool experience. Or maybe someone writes a song for a movie, and then it's just so good that it can stand on its own in the form of a soundtrack album. I think that's how we should be treating story in games (shit sorry I got off on a tangent): it's just one form of story, and games that have stories are just one form of game. And it's quite the challenging form!

OK sorry I got off a lil tangent there. But I hope this was coherent - off to bed now. G'night.

If you enjoy simple puzzle mechanics that lead to very challenging logic puzzles, then check out Zen Puzzle Garden: http://www.lexaloffle.com/zen.php. The basic mechanics are extremely simple, but you'll be surprised at how many rich and interesting puzzles arise from them. It's a very bare-bones puzzle game, so don't expect any story or anything. But the presentation is very soothing and contemplative and very appropriate to the game. So, strap on your thinking caps and give it a whirl. There's a demo.

Internet people sure spend a lot of time and words talking about how to tell a story in games. They write articles like this http://www.next-gen.biz/opinion/opinion-games-cant-tell-stories, trying to figure out what developers should and should not do when trying to tell a story in a game, or whether they should even try at all!

But I think I've come to realize that all of these high-level discussions are really just side-stepping the real issue: maybe you just didn't like the story the game was telling. It's not how it's told or how much agency the player has or whether or not the player ruins the story or how much "congruence" there is between story and gameplay and all that high-level crap...you just didn't like the damn story! Maybe the setting was boring to you, or you couldn't relate to it, or you just really disliked the voice acting.

I think we've solved story telling in games. There's a myriad of ways to do it, whether it's through cut-scenes or set pieces or radio logs or whatever. And I can confidently say the problem is solved because I've played many games that are quite successful in their story telling with quite different techniques. Portal 1/2 did a fantastic job just building a linear experience around you as a silent protagonist, and there were some brilliant moments where game play meshed with story beautifully. That's one way to do it. "To the Moon" barely had any game play, but I loved the story so much that the experience was thoroughly enjoyable anyway. That's another way to do it, and it's much like the approach taken by old-school adventure games. Uncharted 2 took yet another approach to the problem.

These games all approached the problem differently, but they were all successful because fundamentally, I (and a lot of others) just really enjoyed the story they were telling. Sure, I will say that Portal 1/2 probably had the coolest methods for story-telling, with Uncharted 2 coming in second, and "To the Moon" being the most mundane in its approach. And I do hope developers explore more cool ways to tell stories to give us cool, new experiences!

But if you just want to tell a good story? Fine - do it. There's so many ways to do it in a game, there's really no need to worry about "the right way." Use cutscenes - as long as they're good, I will gladly watch them! People that say "cutscenes are bullshit and anti-game" are just thinking about bad cut-scenes. And yeah, nothing kills a game's flow like a bad cut-scene. But guess what? Some of my favorite memories from great games are their cutscenes. MGS was hokey as hell but still had some great moments, Warcraft 2 had some seriously badass vignettes between missions, and "To the Moon" is pretty much one big cutscene.

Anyway, I'm just seriously tired of people downing video games and story telling and how there's something fundamentally wrong about combining the two.

OK this indie game is really good, innovative, and only $6 so I just wanted to give it some love. Here, check it out: http://store.steampowered.com/app/200910/ I really wish it had a demo, because I think if you played it for about 30 minutes you'd be hooked.

This game is DDR/Guitar Hero mixed with an RPG in a really fresh way. Yes, you're gonna be pressing some keys in time with some music, and if you suck at that you will suck at this game, but there's more to it than hitting the right keys. There's also a great strategic layer to it: There are three separate tracks you can focus on, and you need to strategically decide what track you'll pay attention to. One track is for defending against attacks - if there are keys coming down this track and you don't hit them, you get damaged. Another track is mana - there are no penalties for missing keys here, but you need to hit them to gain mana (which you need to attack). And finally there is the Spell track - everytime you use a spell, which you can do anytime, keys will show up in this track, and you need to hit them in order to actually cast the spell (to attack the enemy, heal yourself, etc.). Outside of this, there are meta-structures such as leveling up and a little bit of crafting, but that's the core of the game.

AND IT'S FUN AS HELL. It also features music by Ronald Jenkees, who is awesome. So please - check out some gameplay videos and if you're intrigued at all, BUY IT!

I don't work for the developers at all, but I'm an aspiring indie game developer, and I like telling people about awesome, innovative indie games. Cheers!

What does this...

...have to do with this?

Quite a bit, I believe. Let me explain.

I don't really know anything about ballroom dancing specifically, but I have taken many lessons in partnered swing dancing and some salsa lessons. All of these partnered dance styles have (at least) one thing in common: the dichotomy of the leader and the follower. The leader is "in charge" of the what happens broadly through out the dance (that usually lasts for one song). The follower is meant to, well, follow what the leader wants to do. If the leader does a good job, he (yes, I'm stereotyping for convenience) will execute an interesting sequence of moves that is full of variety and that goes along well with the music. He will also - and this is extremely important - give the proper cues at the proper times to the follower so that the follower can properly respond to his leads. Such cues involve subtle physical motions, such as a gentle but firm push on the waist to indicate that he wants her to spin a certain way. The follower's job is to know these cues and respond to them in a timely manner. When both leader and follower do a good job, both people have a good time, and that's how babies are made. All of this, of course, requires experience. The leader must be experienced in giving cues, and the follower must be experienced in responding to cues. This is what lessons and practice are for.

In video games, it is the designer's job to create a sequence of experiences for the player in a way that is well-paced and well-communicated. The designer may have some great ideas, such as "Oh it would be awesome if the player could take this pumpkin, smash this guy with it, and then kick the other dude in the face and say 'Halloween came early this year, punk!'". But how can we make the player have that awesome experience? You could put it in a cut scene, but that would completely nullify the experience. It would be the difference between watching other people dance versus actually dancing yourself. What you really need to do is to give the player enough cues at the proper times so they know to perform those actions and thus have an awesome little experience. Of course, you also need to train the player ahead of time to perform each of those actions in the right way with the corresponding cues, just as a follower needs to know how to actually do the basic moves (such as spins, steps, etc.) and what the cues are for those. But if you have all those ingredients, you can have the player doing some awesome stuff just by giving hints and nudges here and there. You can then design some awesome sequences, synchronized with music and graphics and what not, that the player will go through with high probability (some followers just suck - can't do much about that).

I think most great games do this to a large extent. One of my favorite moments in gaming was in Shadow of the Colossus: I was fighting the big flying worm thing with wings, and I wasn't quite sure how to get on it. But after a bit of thought, it clicked with me: I needed to get on my horse, chase it down, ride up to its wings, and then jump off my horse. The game never had me doing this before, but I had done all the pieces of it. Then with some subtle hints, such as the low position of the wings, the sequence of actions suddenly clicked with me. This sequence of actions is usually the stuff of cut scenes, but here I was actually doing it. It was thrilling, to say the least. Moments like that are why I love video games.

This is nothing new here - good game designers know that you need to train the player and then use that training in the future. But I think it's an interesting way of looking at it that offers some interesting insights (to me at least). For example, a lot of good dancers don't consciously think about cues. I'm not very good at swing dancing, and I had a girl tell me once, "I'm not sure what you need to do, but you're not doing it and I don't know that you want me to spin here." So there's almost a perceived psychic connection between two good dancers, and as a game designer if you can establish that with your players, that's pretty damn cool.

This is just, ya know, my opinion for what I hope Eidos Montreal does for the next Deus Ex game. I really enjoyed Human Revolution, and I can't wait for the next one already.


The devs already know about the boss battles, so I'm not gonna dwell on that.

More melee options. I really did not like how melee take-downs were done. They use a ton of energy, which is unexpected, and the animations take way too long to play. To me, this made playing stealth much more difficult than it should be. The original DX had some great melee options that you could upgrade, although some of it was over-powered by the end of the game (full low-tech + dragon sword = unstoppable cyber ninja).

I really enjoyed the jump/landing augs, so how about more stuff like that? Maybe an augmentation that lets me climb up walls, or at least hang off ledges Crysis-style? Put some Assassin's Creed in my Deus Ex! Stealth parkour...that sounds quite yummy.

Less emphasis on hacking. I'm drawing a blank on any constructive thoughts here...I just found the hacking mini-game - like most hacking mini-games - to be terribly dull and repetitive. "Ugggghhh not this crap again." The only hacking "game" I ever liked was the original Deus Ex. Yeah man, I would rather sit there and wait for a bar to fill up than do some silly mini-game. Or, give me more options, like the multi-tools, to avoid hacking altogether.

More enemy variety. No need to elaborate, I think.

More environment variety. The original Deus Ex had a ridiculous amount of variety in its environments. I understand it's a bit unfair to compare the two, since production values are so high these days, but it's something to thrive for. Office buildings and warehouses overstayed their welcome in Human Revolution.

Anyway, kudos to Eidos Montreal on a job well done and a bright future for a beloved franchise!